When I finished high school, I wanted to become a 3D artist, but back then no one even knew what a 3d artist does and there were no jobs as a 3d artists at that time! I was definitely out of my mind!
Creating 3D assets whether it’s characters or environments that you see in movies or games is a very exciting idea but can this be a career or is it just a hobby and something you can do on the side?
For a long time I treated it like that, as there was no educational source for it, I ended up studying Graphic Design in the morning and 3D art in the afternoon on my own.
in this article, we will talk more about what it takes to be a 3D Artist, how to become one, and where to even start let’s jump straight to it.
What is a 3D Artist?
A 3D artist is someone whose job it is to create 3d assets for use in movies, games, and other media. This includes everything from characters to props to environment and sets.
3D artists usually work in teams. Sometimes one person will do only the characters and is called a 3D character artist while others will do only environments and they are called 3D environment artists. Other times there might be several people working together to make sure that one asset looks perfect.
The best way to become a 3D artist is to start practicing now. You don’t have to attend college to learn how to do 3D, but being exposed to tutorials early on will give you a head start. If you want to focus on 3D art, try taking some courses online and then practice, practice and practice.
You’ll need to know what tools to use and how to use them. For example, you could learn Maya or 3Ds Max. There are lots of software programs that let you create 3D models. Some of these include Maya, Blender, and Cinema 4D...
If you’re interested in becoming a 3D artist, you’ll probably need some experience under your belt. Try doing some freelance projects. If you find something interesting, ask around.
Someone else might already be looking for somebody to hire or you can open up an Upwork account and try to do some work over there.
The key is to offer your services for lower prices as you are just starting out and you want to mainly build up a great portfolio which is the most important element in landing great jobs..
3D Artist Software
A 3D artist needs several tools to make his/her life easier. These include good hardware, a computer, a Wacom, and 3D softwares. Depending on the type of project being worked on, a 3D artist might use one or more of the following types of software:
- A CAD program such as AutoCAD, SketchUp, Rhino, etc.
- A 3D modeling program such as Maya, Blender, Modo, 3ds Max, etc.
- An animation/compositing program such as Adobe After Effects, Flash, Nuke, etc.
- Rendering software such as Vray, Mental Ray, Renderman, etc.
- Sculpting software such as Zbrush, Blender, Mudbox, etc.
- Photo editing software such as Photoshop.
There are many different kinds of software available on the market. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the right software depends on where you want to work and in which industry.
I have noticed that 3Ds Max is used more frequently in the ArchViz space while Maya is used more in the film and games industry although nowadays I feel the industry is slowly shifting to Blender as it’s becoming a very powerful software packing lots of features and they provide all that for free.
You may choose to use one program over another depending on how much experience you have with each one. For example, if you’re just starting out, it makes sense to start with Blende.
If you’ve been working with the same program for a long time, it may be worth looking into something else. As you gain more experience, you’ll learn about the pros and cons of each option.
Also having several softwares on your CV makes you stand out when applying to studios as you will fit immediately in their workflow right off the bat and you won’t need any additional training and onboarding time.
How to become a 3D artist
To become an expert in 3d art, you must constantly improve yourself and build up an awesome-looking portfolio on Artstation as this is what most studios ask for and this is the criteria that will land you the first interview.
Follow the steps below to start your path as a 3D artist:
- Pick what you want to work on ( Characters, Environment, Props..)
- Pick which software you want to start learning (I advise you start with Blender as it’s free)
- Pick a tutorial or a course to learn the software you chose (Pluralsight.com)
- Don’t fall into the trap of endless tutorials watching, watch 1 tutorial or course that would be enough.
- PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE…
Skills 3D artists Need
Companies like Autodesk are creating software tools to make it easier for people to learn how to use those technologies. But there’s no single way to become a skilled 3D artist.
You need different types of training and experience. And you might even need to work with others in fact a lot of the skills and techniques I learned were from hands-on work alongside very talented artists where you get to see their work and comment on your work.
As far as experience goes, most employers will ask for three to five years of professional experience. This includes working on creating 3D assets depending if you applying for a specialized 3D artist job (3D character Artist..) or if you want to go with the generalist approach then you are expected to know a bit of everything and that will include rigging, animation, VFX.
Here are some skills you would definitely need as a 3D artist:
- Sculpting Skills ( Zbrush or Mudbox )
- Modeling Skills ( Maya or 3Ds Max or Blender )
- Texturing Skills ( Substance Painter )
- UV mapping ( Maya or 3Ds Max or Blender )
- Rigging ( Maya or 3Ds Max or Blender )
- Game Engine ( Unity or Unreal )
- Bonus Skills ( Marvellous designer, Substance Designer, Marmoset Toolbag)
An awesome portfolio is another essential part of the equation. Show off your work. Employers will want to see examples of your 3D assets. Make sure you include images of your creations.
Don’t just show off your final products, include screenshots of your process even add an online 3D viewer so they rotate themselves around the model and switch to wireframe so they can see how good your topology is. This gives potential employers a glimpse into your thought processes.
Finally, remember to network. Talk to friends and family members who work in the field. Ask them for advice and I know this is a hard barrier to break, as ego always stands in the way but the sooner you get over that the better as you will never improve if you have an ego and if you are overprotective of your work.
3D Artist Career Path
A 3D artist career path involves working on different types of projects. You might start out doing small jobs, such as creating character models or doing props. As you gain experience, you could move into larger projects, like video game development, film production, or animation.
Senior 3D artists are responsible for leading teams of junior 3D artists. They will oversee the asset process, manage junior artists, and communicate effectively with other departments when necessary.
Lead 3D Artists Leading a team requires being organized and having good communication skills. You must be able to plan ahead and keep track of deadlines. This includes managing tasks, delegating responsibilities, and keeping everyone updated about what needs to be done next.
let’s not forget about accountability as it’s something being missed a lot these days, everyone on the team is responsible for their own tasks and is held accountable for that.
As a lead Artist, you should be comfortable communicating with clients and colleagues. You should also be familiar with industry conventions and best practices. For example, you should know how to use 3D softwares and have a solid understanding of file formats.
The most important thing to remember when looking for a job as a 3D artist is to always ask questions. If you don’t understand something, it’s better to find out now rather than later.
3D Artist Interviews
I personally have done so many interviews in the last 14 years and have also conducted interviews with artists of all specialties, I have also onboarded and led artists within teams of small and large sizes.
here are some tips on being interviewed as a 3D artist:
- Be on time ( being late says a lot about what type of employee you will be )
- Be Present ( don’t work on something else or even look at a different screen, give your full attention to the person interviewing you )
- Prepare for the interview beforehand ( have your portfolio open in case they asked you to share screen if you have additional work that isn’t available online have that also prepared )
- Smile and be open to questions
- Be honest about your skills and your experience (it’s better to be clear right from the beginning to avoid any miscommunication later on )
3D Artist Salary
Most 3D artists work 40 hours per week. They usually work Monday through Thursday 9 am to 5 pm but nowadays most studies offer flex time meaning you will have core working hours from 10 am to 4 pm during this time all employees are expected to be present for meetings and collaborative work.
Recently InnoGames, a mobile game studio in Germany posted the salary bands they give to all their employees and that includes the salaries of the art department.
I think that step is a very bold and courageous step as usual studios are very secretive about these bands and some studios don’t even have salary bands (shhh don’t tell anyone).
so here is a link to that article but keep in mind that the salary of a 3D artist differs from one country to another and from one studio to another and from mobile game studios to AAA studios.
Being a 3D artist can be a great career choice especially if you love games and animation. The main thing to remember is to never stop learning and growing as an artist. There are new technologies coming up every day and there are always ways to improve yourself and your craft.
Also, be aware of burnout, and overwork everyone needs a break from time to time, this industry definitely has a big share of stress so you will need to manage that stress, from the stress of layoffs to the stress of not being good enough, etc…
Take care of your body as well, 3D artists have a desk jobs meaning they stay sitting all day and if you have a passion for it you will forget yourself for hours working. It’s essential that you take breaks during the day for walks, stretching, and healthy meals.